Learning About Creativity from John Cleese

We have something in common — all of us who focus on creative work and John Cleese — and that is when we are in the creative flow, we need uninterrupted time. This means no multitasking and that the slightest bit of interruption sends the whole thought process back to square one.

Likely, we also have more in common. Cleese provides more thoughts on what he learned about being creative.

Paraphrasing from the video:

  • When composing late at night and getting stuck on a sketch, he would just go to bed; the solution became immediately apparent in the morning, fresh from sleep – in fact, he could not even remember what the problem was. Hence the saying about sleeping on it.
  • Once he lost a script he had written, and not being able to find it, he wrote it again from memory; then he found the original script. Fortunately, he was curious enough to re-read the found copy. What he discovered was that the second version, the one he rewrote from memory, was noticeably better. The explanation: the unconscious part of the mind continued working on it, with the result that when he rewrote it a second time, much faster, it was better.
  • The most dangerous thing when he was trying to write anything was to be interrupted; because the flow of thought that he had was not immediately picked up after the interruption. It took him a very long time. While this was not a problem with a piece of writing that was pretty straight forward, like a monologue, it was easier to pick it up. for more complex scripts that involved emotional dimensions interruptions where much more destructive. The lesson: avoid interruptions.
  • We don't know where we get out ideas from; what we do know is that we don't get them from our laptops. In fact, we get out ideas from our unconscious — the part of our mind that goes to work when we are asleep. The data point: (I am inferring) rest is important to the creative process.
  • He then talks about the importance of getting in the mood for creativity; saying that if we run around all day, ticking things off lists, partitioning time, making phone calls, and keeping all the balls in the air, you are not going to have any creative ideas.

So, asks Cleese, how do we create a mood that will enable us to be more creative in this frenzied world we live in?

  • Create a oasis in your life, a tortoise enclosure where your mind can come out and play
  • Two things you have to do:
    1. create boundaries of space — physically stop interruptions
    2. create boundaries of time — set a starting point, and an end point
  • If you lack the skills, however, you are out of luck; because the people who are absolutely hopeless also lack the skills to know that they are absolutely hopeless. This is a profound discovery — that most people who have absolutely no idea of what they are doing have absolutely no idea that they have no idea of what they are doing. It explains a great deal of life. It explains Hollywood, and it also explains why so many people in charge of organizations have a terrible blind spot. The problem with teachers who don't understand creativity is that they also do not value it.
  • If the people in charge are very egotistic, then they want to take the credit for everything that happens; and they want to feel that they are in control of everything that happens. That means: that consciously or unconsciously they will discourage creativity in other people.

More lessons in creativity from Hitchcock.


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.

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